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CT housing bill puts formerly incarcerated, landlords at odds

Leslie Caraballo, who is formerly incarcerated, testifies in favor of a bill that would limit landlords' use of criminal history on rental applications. Her daughter Bella sits on her lap as she testifies before the Housing Committee on Feb. 27, 2024 at the Legislative Office Building in Hartford.
Ginny Monk
/
CT Mirror
Leslie Caraballo, who is formerly incarcerated, testifies in favor of a bill that would limit landlords' use of criminal history on rental applications. Her daughter Bella sits on her lap as she testifies before the Housing Committee on Feb. 27, 2024 at the Legislative Office Building in Hartford.

Formerly incarcerated people and advocates on Tuesday asked lawmakers to pass a bill that would keep landlords from considering prospective tenants’ criminal records that are more than three years old during the rental application process.

House Bill 5242, which limits landlords’ ability to consider felony criminal convictions in rental applications, contains carve-outs for sex offenders and people convicted of producing methamphetamines in federally assisted housing. People told lawmakers about the difficulty finding housing after a conviction and spoke in favor of the bill at the Housing Committee’s public hearing Tuesday.

“Housing is a basic human right, and a criminal record does not strip you of your humanity,” said Robin Ledbetter, a smart justice leader with the American Civil Liberties Union. Ledbetter was incarcerated at 14 on robbery and murder charges.

Since then, she’s gotten a job and built up good credit. She said her goal is to be a good example for young women like her, to show them that “change is possible.” She had to ask her 76-year-old mother to cosign on her apartment. She’s engaged now, and because of her and her fiancé’s records, it’s nearly impossible to find housing, she said.

Landlords spoke out in strong opposition to the measure, saying they’d be at risk of liability and that it would be harder to keep tenants safe if the proposal passes.

“The idea of housing convicted criminals in my community is a scary thing to say the least for me,” said April Conquest, a property manager at Vesta Corporations and a member of the Connecticut Apartment Association, in written testimony. “This will leave my community with no recourse to stop arsonists, stalkers, rapists, breaking-and-entering criminals from living in my community.”

People “subject to a lifetime registration requirement,” which includes sex offenders, would not be subject to the bill under current language.

Conquest added that she thinks lawmakers should instead consider more transitional housing options.

Research has shown that it’s often difficult for people with criminal records to obtain housing, and that their rental applications are frequently rejected. In some circumstances, they’re also barred from public housing programs.

Formerly incarcerated people are also about 10 times more likely than the general public to become homeless, and housing instability has been tied to higher recidivism rates. People of color, who are incarcerated at disproportionate rates, are also more likely to struggle to find housing when they re-enter society.

A study released earlier this month showed that about 44% of people released in 2020 had returned to a Department of Correction facility within three years. Some landlords pointed to recidivism rates as evidence that renting to people with criminal histories could put other tenants at risk.

“A person who has committed crimes against people and society is responsible for his or her own condition,” said August Miller, who has been a landlord for more than 40 years. “They should not be rewarded and coddled. The safety of the law-abiding tenants should always take priority over housing for criminals.”

Others said they wanted to see how Connecticut’s Clean Slate program, which promises fresh starts for people convicted of certain cannabis-related crimes, affects the housing industry.

Senate President Pro Tem Martin Looney, D-New Haven, spoke in favor of the bill Tuesday.

“Lack of housing is an all-too-common experience for people as they work to become productive citizens after a conviction,” Looney said. “Limiting the use of criminal records to reject applicants would help resolve this situation.”

Several members of the ACLU, homelessness advocates and service providers spoke in favor of the measure.

ACLU Smart Justice Leader Leslie Caraballo, who was formerly incarcerated on manslaughter charges, spoke in favor of the bill, with her 4-year-old daughter sitting in her lap. She said housing has been the most significant barrier for her trying to get her daughter into a good environment and the best education.

Caraballo was released in 2017 to a transitional facility and has gotten a job and an apartment, but she said her choices were limited. She said her focus is on trying to make sure her daughter is safe.

“My past should not dictate my child’s future,” Caraballo said. She then tilted the microphone toward her daughter, Bella.

“Please pass the bill,” the child said.

The bill would next need to win votes in the committee before advancing to the House floor.

Launched in 2010, The Connecticut Mirror specializes in in-depth news and reporting on public policy, government and politics. CT Mirror is nonprofit, non-partisan, and digital only.